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Sunday, November 17, 2013

1 Corinthians 10:13 – Claptrap or Unchangeable Truth?

In the past week I read two essays in the blogosphere, (here and here) both saying essentially the same thing: To believe God will never give us more than we can handle is an erroneous interpretation of 1 Corinthians 10:13. One author called it, “sentimental claptrap” (e.g. a pretentious but empty-meaning statement, nonsense, a sham). The other author called it ‘a lie.”

I do not doubt the authors of these two blog pieces were in the morass of despondency when they challenged the veracity of St. Paul’s statement – or rather, the veracity of the Holy Spirit’s statement to us through the apostle. I am sure the authors of these articles were hurting, and their confusion and heartache clouded their spiritual eyes of faith. But to suggest God's word in 1 Corinthians 10:13 is either a lie or claptrap is a serious charge and rife with several errors of judgment. Further, calling it a lie or claptrap turns our eyes inward, onto our suffering, and not upward to God who, as the Psalmist learned, “is a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)   

Let’s look at the passage in question. This is from the New American Standard Bible:

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

This from the New International Version:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

Those are only two of many versions which translate the Greek word πειρασμός (peirasmos) as ‘temptation,’ and πειράζω (peirazo) as ‘tempted.” But a word study (I used Blueletterbible.org, or the book Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance) demonstrates the word can be used to describe not only temptation to sin, but can also be translated as ‘proving’, “trial’, or ‘testing’. For example, Sirach (written in Greek) 27:5,7; Galatians 4:14; Hebrews 3:8; James 1:12; 1 Peter 4:12; Revelation 3:10.

That is why the New American Bible got it right when they translated the verse:

Further, the context of 1 Corinthians 10:13 guides us to the correct understanding of the word. The first 12 verses of this chapter talk about Israel’s 'testing' or 'trial' in the wilderness.

Even the secular world says, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” So why is it incredible that God will sometimes test us to see what we’re made of (or rather, so that we will see what our mettle is like, since He already knows us from the beginning to end and all parts in between). To say, as these two authors say, that God gives us more than we can handle (and without the critically important follow on from Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”) is to make God either 1) a monster who willfully tries to destroy us, or 2) an impotent God who cannot affect our world or our circumstances, or 3) a God who is ignorant of what is happening in our lives.

None of those options describe the God of the Bible. God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). And Love does not seek to destroy His beloved. And God is omnipotent and omniscient.

God's overriding purpose is to make us into the image of Christ. He says so in Romans 8:29. (It would be instructive to read the context of that verse, too – all the way through verse 39). And often suffering is part of  His plan to conform us into Christ’s image. For example, see 1 Peter 1:3-7 and Hebrews 5:7-9.

Suffering is part of life because we live in a fallen world. That is not, as some might call it, claptrap sentimentality and platitude. It is simply reality. But how we handle suffering is what determines our outlook both on life and, more importantly, how we view God – as either One who loves us and causes all things (even evil) to work together for good . . . or, as (as I said earlier) a monster.

Job is a great illustration of this point about suffering and about our choice how to handle suffering. I think most Christians have heard (or even memorized) his words in 13:15,  "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him." The prophet Habakkuk, who lived through a horrible invasion of his land and subsequent torture and exile of his people, proclaimed something very similar in Habakkuk 3:17-19.

Life is full of trials (and, yes, even temptations to sin). Devastating trials. Heart-wrenching trials. Bloodcurdling trials. But in each case, in all cases, God never tests us beyond our ability to be victorious. To do so would make Him less than a loving Father whose purpose is to make us into the image of His Son.

How can we be sure of this? Because the Holy Spirit tells us so through the pages of Holy Scripture and through the lives of Christians – especially the Martyrs – throughout our history of faith.

God is good. In all situations and in all circumstances, God is good. He can never be anything less.

Thanks be to God.